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So, what’s in it for me?

Thursday 3 May 2012

So, what’s in it for me? 

Better physical health; running, weight loss and feeling good. The social benefits from running, and the benefits of running in a group.


Better physical health

Running increases our good cholesterol and decreases the bad, reduces body fat (more on that below), and it lowers our blood pressure. It builds up cardio or aerobic fitness (your heart pumps more strongly and more efficiently, and your muscles use oxygen more efficiently). Running even makes your arteries healthier by keeping them stretchy, which is a very sexy thing in an artery, if a bit difficult to show off to admiring friends.

Running can be described as an effective way to slow our rate of aging due to the way it slows bone and muscle loss - something which otherwise occurs naturally as we get older. Being a weight-bearing exercise (which keeps the bones strong), running also helps to fend off osteoporosis. Exercise in general reduces your risk of heart disease, and of many forms of cancer.


Weight loss and running

While running takes more effort than walking, the good news is that this extra effort burns lots of calories. Just watch what you eat to get the benefit though; no matter how much you run, to lose weight you have to be burning more calories than you take in through eating. So if you want the benefit from your exercise, eat less, or eat differently - essentially that means less fat and carbs, e.g. less fast food!

What about running vs walking vs cycling? There’s some research suggesting that running will burn up around 30% more calories than walking or cycling the same distance (but walking up hill is about the same as running). 


Feeling good

Like most forms of exercise, running is a good way to reduce stress, and it’s effective in helping with depression and lifting your mood. Being a fairly vigorous form of exercise, running triggers your brain into releasing hormones called endorphins which create a sense of euphoria - a natural high sometimes called ‘runner’s high’ (just don’t expect this on your first ever run....).

A physical benefit that can also make us feel good is the improved coordination that we gain from running, especially on uneven ground like an off-road trail. Another ‘feel good’ benefit is the sense of mastery or accomplishment that comes from having achieved something - that first 5km run, or your fastest ever run around the block, or just getting out and doing it on that day when you didn’t feel like it.

And (yes, there’s more!) running helps with sleep, especially the quality of our sleep, and this really helps with our mood and our energy levels.


Social benefits

Running with others is a good way of sharing an experience, something that builds up our sense of connection with other people. There are other indirect social benefits too; when someone is more energetic and more positive they’re just that much nicer to be around, and when we’re fitter we tend to look better (see, it’s those stretchy arteries).


Running in a group - benefits

If you’re in a group and a runner gets injured or sick there's always someone there to help. But running with a group can help with solving other problems too - you can bounce ideas off each other about something that’s bugging you. Having a group (or even a couple of others) to go running with is also a really good way to keep motivated - to get out there and stick at it, to go the distance on a day when you feel a bit rubbish, or to keep at the activity when the weather is unfriendly or you‘re just going through a slack phase. 

Finally, groups can also provide a bit of competition that gives the activity an extra dimension. This can be a fun, light-hearted thing, but it often means you end up pushing yourself a bit in a way that improves your level of fitness, and gives you more of the related benefits.